British GT Silver Cup Champion Ollie Wilkinson sealed his maiden year in the series with another second-place class finish in the season finale at Donington Park, cementing his and Optimum Motorsport team-mate Bradley Ellis’ Silver Cup title by 51.5 points.
Driving the new Aston Martin Vantage GT3, Wilkinson and Ellis laid the foundations to lift the class crown from the first outing of the season, kicking off their debut campaign with double Silver Cup victories at Oulton Park. Further wins at Snetterton, the Silverstone 500 and at Spa-Francorchamps, plus a trio of second places assured them of the spoils.
In addition to achieving their season goal, Wilkinson and Ellis made a distinct impression in the outright championship battle from the outset – their Oulton Park performance also claiming third overall and the new Aston Martin’s first UK podium, whilst becoming the first Silver-Silver pairing to don the outright podium since 2017.
Most notable would be their dominance of the series’ European outing at Spa in July, with a pole-to-flag outright victory. With the highs also came the lows, namely the freak refuelling fire which knocked the Aston out of a podium position on the first visit to Donington Park earlier in the year.
Their impressive form ensured the Optimum duo approached the #DoningtonDecider – at the track where Wilkinson made his racing debut in the Ginetta GT5 Challenge just three years ago, almost to the day – as part of a five-way fight for all-out glory. But, to make that previously inconceivable dream a reality, Wilkinson and Ellis would have to win whilst the four teams ahead would have to fail to finish.
Indeed, it wasn’t to be. Issues in practice and qualifying limited the duo to 12th on the grid, second in Silver Cup, leaving the Optimum crew to work through the night to replace the differential and gearbox. After a more positive warm-up on Sunday morning, hopes were high of salvaging a recovery charge.
Finally underway for the last two-hour battle of 2019 after a three-lap safety car period, Ollie held position at the re-start before working his way up four places to lie eighth ahead of the pit stop cycles. But damage to the front bumper and splitter sustained shortly after the restart would leave the duo with understeer, compromised aero and brake cooling issues.
Picking up where Wilkinson left off, Ellis was still able to chip away at the gap to seventh, moving up the order when the #7 Bentley slowed to retirement. Ellis’ efforts, however, proved in vain when a last-lap lunge from the #31 Bentley ended the #96 Aston’s race in the Redgate gravel trap, classifying ninth.
Although a disappointing end to their British GT season, nothing can take away what Wilkinson, Ellis and Optimum Motorsport have achieved. Wilkinson concluded: “This wasn’t the way we wanted to end our first year in British GT. But, at the end of the day, we’d already managed to do what we set out to do – to win the Silver Cup. I never dreamed that we’d also be in with a shot at the outright title.
“We had a lot of problems this weekend, which we unknowingly carried over from damage in the Silverstone GT Open the weekend before, where we were knocked off the podium a few corners from the flag. The team did a hell of a job turning the car around to bring us back into a points-scoring position, it felt pretty good considering we hadn’t had any opportunity to optimise the setup. It just didn’t quite end the way we dreamed of.
“Optimum have been amazing all season, they’ve worked so hard to give us the best car possible. I can’t thank them, and of course Brad, enough. Thanks also to the British GT Championship for everything this year, it’s been a hell of an experience.”
Team-mate Ellis added: “We did the job for the Silver Cup early on and clinched that at Brands Hatch, so it’s just a shame to finish our season in the gravel trap. We didn’t think we’d ever be in a five-way hunt for the outright British GT title this year, especially as a Silver pairing with a weight penalty, so to have that opportunity going into the last round was really cool. It’s just a shame we couldn’t capitalise on it.
“The team worked through the night to give us a car we could race with, so I take my hat off to them, and not just for this weekend. With the diff change, the car was a lot more predictable and although the front-end damage was hurting us towards the end, I was able to gradually reel in the pack ahead. We lost ground in traffic in the last few laps which allowed the Bentley to close and it all ended with a hit from behind.
“Ollie’s come on leaps and bounds all year. We started the season knowing he was fairly quick, and he’s just got quicker and quicker. The main thing is that he’s really nailed his consistency and that’s transformed his race pace, and put us in with a chance of fighting for the outright title.”
Wilkinson now heads straight to Barcelona to contest the penultimate round of the International GT Open series, 21-22 September.
Photo credit: Jakob Ebrey